The Chinese military launched three days of major military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in response to US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California.
The exercises were announced by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as Tsai returned to Taiwan. During the first day of drills on Saturday, the PLA said it was practicing its ability to “seize control of the sea, air and information” around Taiwan.
Shi Yi, a spokesman for the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, made clear the drills were a response to Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy. “This is to send a serious warning against Taiwan independence separatist forces and their collusion with foreign forces to stir provocations,” Shi said.
The meeting made McCarthy the highest-level US official to ever meet with a Taiwanese president on US soil since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei to open up with Beijing in 1979. McCarthy is also only the third House speaker to meet with a Taiwanese leader.
According to The South China Morning Post, the Saturday drills involved a rocket team from the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, destroyers, frigates, missile boats, fighter jets, bombers, and electronic warfare planes. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it detected 71 PLA aircraft and nine vessels, including 45 planes that crossed the median line, an informal barrier that separates the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
China used to very rarely cross the median line, but that has changed since then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. China launched its largest-ever military exercises after Pelosi’s visit and now regularly crosses the median line.
This weekend’s drills are the largest Chinese exercises in the area since Pelosi’s visit. The PLA put on a similar show of force in December in response to President Biden signing the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included unprecedented military aid for Taiwan, but they were not multi-day drills.
On Sunday, China’s drills continued, and Chinese state media reported they were focused on simulating strikes on Taiwan. “Multiple armed services conducted simulated joint precision strikes against key targets on Taiwan and nearby waters to maintain a posture that encircles and closes in on the island,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported, according to the Post.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it detected 70 PLA aircraft and 11 vessels on Sunday, including 35 planes that crossed the median line. It said Taiwan’s armed forces had “monitored the situation and tasked our assets to respond these provocative activities.”
China repeatedly said it would take strong measures if McCarthy met with Tsai, but the warnings did not deter the House speaker. On Twitter, as China was conducting its major drills, McCarthy wrote, “I am the Speaker of the House. There is no place that China is going to tell me where I can go or who I can speak to.”